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Q&A: Autonomous Vehicles & Society with CNET Editor at large, Brian Cooley

Q&A: Autonomous Vehicles & Society with CNET Editor at large, Brian Cooley
In part-one of our two-part series with Brian Cooley, Editor at large at CNET, we looked at the future of autonomous vehicles and the importance of consumer acceptance and trust of the technology.
Following, Brian shares his perspectives on the societal impact autonomous driving technology may have on the world around us.
If you missed part-one of the Q&A with Brian, you can find that story here.
Q: Brian, how will AD technology change individual relationships or behavior when it comes to their relationship with driving?
This will be the single biggest change in what we view as our relationship with transportation in any of our lives. I would say it’s the biggest change in automotive since automotive. It’s not just you trusting technology to move the wheel and work the gas and the brake, but are you comfortable thinking about a new way of getting around that’s not tied into a vertical stack of, `I have a license, I have insurance, I own a car, I park it here — and it’s all stacked vertically.’ Right now, we’re very comfortable with that enormous stack of responsibilities and costs. But I have a feeling consumers will be open to changing that when they can be free and that stack gets a little lighter and there’s a little less cost on their shoulders. People like that.
Q: So the implications on the broader society, it’s a pretty big deal?
Yes. Number 1 is accident reduction. Down to zero is very credibly talked about in the next few decades. Then you take a look at road utilization. Nobody wants to see more of the land in their area paved. You’ll have more cars that are being used more effectively and also use less space. Self-driving cars are very good at taking the gaps out in traffic because they can follow each other precisely. Now you might need a lot less road for the same number of cars.
And more importantly, think about how many cars — the majority of them — spend their time parked. Most cars just sit and basically do nothing all day. You’re not using them when you’re asleep; you’re not usually using them when you’re at work, in the mall, at the movies, at a restaurant. They are all interstitial uses and that’s an enormous waste of the potential of the fleet. So if we can really start to draw the fleet down and take a lot of the load off the amount of roadway and infrastructure we need. That changes a lot of businesses. It changes the nature of how you make money in the car business, how you make money in the automotive and insurance business and what it means to be a car versus transportation.
Q: Stick with that point. It also creates a different kind of personal space in the vehicle and opens it up to the car becoming more of a productivity area.
Yeah. As carmakers probe a little deeper, beyond 10 years, into what the meaning and relationship that we’ll have with cars will be like, look at as freeing up personal time and that being the new statement of luxury in a vehicle. Which can mean that a luxury car is not a big car, a heavy car, a leather and wood car, and as many cylinders under the hood as possible car. But a car that simply gives you back some time. That’s the ultimate luxury and everyone can relate to that and arguably, everyone will be able to access that. The real luxury of autonomy and the time you take back from slavishly managing a wheel and pedals is going to be pushed across all levels of cars. It’s a nice thing.
Q: How else do you think this is going to improve peoples’ lives?
Well, think about what you’ll do when you don’t have to drive? That is the question of tomorrow. You can only put on so much makeup. You can only eat so much fast food. You can only yell at the kids in the back seat so many times. What you have an unlimited appetite for is media. And you can imagine that the guilty use of media too many people do today becomes legitimized in not too many years into the future where the car will have information, “I’m driving now and you don’t need to worry about it.” It’s what they call Level 4 driving in auto parlance.
Then you can legitimately dive into media, whether it’s for work, entertainment or staying in touch with family. That’s another derivation of this idea of new luxury in the car, the luxury of having social connection with someone who’s in the car or not…Imagine the new social experience of going on road trips and family trips, whether it’s casual or long planned. There’s a different dynamic in the car. You start to look forward to it much more.
Q: Policy regulation and infrastructure — what are challenges that still need to be overcome?
Let’s face it, self-driving cars are very autonomous but they aren’t that autonomous from the infrastructure around them. The autonomy within the environment around them actually becomes more important. Right now, cars on the road are these beings that are disconnected. It’s between driver and car and the car doesn’t have much of a relationship with its environment, to be honest. That will get much more rich in the future as we get vehicle to vehicle communication, which will likely arrive first in the next handful of years, where cars talk to each other.
Then you’ll also see vehicle to infrastructure communications, and that might be a few more years down the road because it does require some digging, some installing and some budgeting. But then you get the roadways talking to the cars that are talking to each other.
Pretty soon you start to establish a very smart hive mind of vehicles that are working together in a seamless way and should never have a problem. If you have a car that’s looking for things out ahead of it and the car ahead of it is looking out for the red lights or green lights around it, then you almost have 2 or 3 levels of security and 2 or 3 levels of flow management that can make sure you’ve got the right cars with the right people in the right places at the right time.
Just take one look at parking. Parking alone is a huge problem to solve. Imagine if every spot in the world reported up to the cloud and so every car that was looking…could find that spot.
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